When the ear meets the eye: Rodrigo Peces sets to music the “ Guernica”

Have you ever thought that a painting could be set to music, brought to life by the sound that evokes suggestions and sheds light on the dynamics? That music can complement our visual perception where descriptive chaos reigns and facilitate the fruition or lead to further semantic in depth analysis?
The use of modern synthesizers and techniques of music editing makes this idea interesting and visual approach to the works of the great masters an ‘ audience wider.

The Spaniard Rodrigo Peces, young artist and sound engineer who sees music as interaction with the surrounding world, offers a “sound” of one of the most famous masterpieces of the first half of the ‘900, the Picasso’s Guernica, protagonist in his video Guernica_ Impresione of Guernica (Viaje sound) .

The meeting with Rodrigo is almost accidental, due to working circumstances; between a commitment and another we exchange ideas on the art world.

Sound engineer, the young man from Toledo was introduced to music through the study and practice of the classical guitar; in itinere in Spain he has scored the big pieces of the classical tradition but now – he explains – has other interests and a look at the music ‘interaction between the artist and the world around.

We both share the same passion for the image, we were struck by the descriptive chaos of Guernica by Picasso. His musical piece reflects in an auditory way the sensations that he tried for the first time when he found himself in front of the painting; he, like me, was astonished in admiring and in scrutinizing every detail.

– What is this piece for you?

The entire composition is a musical journey through this painting, sometimes calm sometimes disturbing. It is an emotional journey that I felt when, for the first time, I saw the picture in the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. I do not remember how long I was there to admire it.

– The Guernica is a painting  difficult to decipher. There are images that dominate, that overlap. It is a chaos expressed visually from dismembered bodies, twisted. How have you made ​​this idea?

Each figure has a precise meaning, translated into music and evokes different meanings, shreds of war, desolation, nationalism, freedom violated and finally death. I used different sound environments. This music was composed as an the expansion of the painting .

  • Do  you mean it completes it?

It helps to decipher. The beginning, for example, is an introduction, a prologue of peace, calm before the war, this looks completely absent in the portion of the picture that represents the final moment.

Then I stop to listen to the piece and I also look back on this trip in my memory: listening to the cries of children who rejoice, the pressing surrounding sounds, till they evoke the destructive power of war.

Rodrigo sees me with puzzled eyes and adds that the structure of the piece is very linear; The composition is made ​​of different environments and rebuilt by different musical instruments, in some passages used in a very personal way.  Sometimes I played guitar using screws and plucking the strings covered with pieces of paper to the point of making unusual sounds.

The Vision


I close my eyes and mentally I recall my visual memories. In front of a painting of this size (height 3.5 meters in length x 7.8) I had to take an appropriate distance , both dictated by reasons of safety, the protective bar that prevents approaching the painting ,and by practical reasons: a panoramic vision is the only one that allows us to understand all aspects of the canvas in all its details, and to have an overall view.

Then began my perception; very confusing, I would say. Where to start to understand, to decipher what is not presented in a linear sequence? Perhaps with the caption.  I read and translate from Spanish that Guernica is a village in the Basque Country, bombed by the Germans and the Allied forces during the Spanish Civil War .

The image of chaos takes shape in the mind. Maybe the war is reproduced in its destructive force.  There is no ‘head following tail in these bodies that dominate other to form a compositional technique reminiscent of the collage . A bull, a horse and a soldier are the images that bounce immediately, all three linked by a strong symbolism of the war. The soldier, or what’s left of his body is lying on the far left of the canvas, arms dismembered, open with visible stigmata. It is suffering, or has suffered, and still bears the marks of this pain, similar to pain of Christ.

I try to imagine the pain poured through the blood , but the painting is black and white and invites me to investigate only the contents. There are no distractions that can come from the colour change. It is a harsh reality that is presented, and I, as a viewer, I just have to imagine and animate this dimension.

An eye in a central position, like a Big Brother who observes the viewer. And at his side, barely perceptible, a torch or lamp that maybe was taken from a woman’s face in profile that appears to the right. This image, albeit fragmentary, it reminds me of the woman in “Liberty Leading the People” of Gericault. At  times the artists match between them and it is up to us to grasp their echo.

A torch, a light precisely that of the way out, the hope, the strength to start again after the destruction. I wonder if my imagination is moving away too much from the real, but with careful observation I noticed a dove with the palm olive, whose presence can not escape the symbolism of Christian iconography. It is the time of peace.

It ‘hard to get rid of this imagination, one is easily trapped by these scenes, from this confusion that refers to itself. The canvas , no matter how large, contains its entirety, does not make them out. Images that scream for them to compose himself and break free from their oppression. Even I feel caged; everything leads us to think about the war. A Guernica. 

On the far right of the picture a man with raised hands in a sign of truce is trapped by the flames. It is the war that goes out or the light of hope? This eventually remains: the confusion of every war and the light and hope to start over, to reassemble the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle, the desire to make chromatic my experience.

Rendezvous between the sound and the visual

I let myself taken by imagination and I describe my feelings to Rodrigo, while listening to the piece together.

A sound that refers to the placid peace closes the song, as a cyclic structure. The pace has lost its persistent nature.

I shake my hand to my friend, as a sign of closure and hope to revisit together in the canvas; we were both trapped by the imagination, curiosity for Guernica and both have come out satisfied and appeased in having investigated and absorbed with different sensory perceptions the work of a great master.

A proposito dell'autore

Giancarlo Napolitano si è laureato in lingue e letterature straniere presso la facoltà di lingue dell'Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli, discutendo una tesi letteraria di natura sperimentale sugli spazi e i tempi nell'Assommoir di Emile Zola, rivisitando il romanzo in chiave psicanalitica. Ha sempre nutrito un vivo interesse per l'arte, in particolare per quella rinascimentale. Vive da anni a Londra e ha potuto coltivare questa passione con continue visite alla National gallery che ha sempre considerato come una sua seconda dimora. Di carettere inquisitivo si interroga sulle opere degli artisti, continuo assertore del progresso, vede in ogni opera contemporanea un ponte con il passato con il quale rapportare ogni sua esperienza quotidiana.